October feels like the end of the growing season in the French vegetable plot. We have cleared the tomato, aubergine and pepper plants, harvested the potatoes and onions and the earth is ready to rest over winter. The final job is to plant a few leeks then pick the autumn squash.
Squash seedlings are planted out in late spring, carefully spaced as we know how far they will spread. For a few weeks they look delicate, as if all of their energy is channelled into the development of roots. You turn your back and the plants have started to run, entwining with each other as they go, producing wide, flat leaves that jostle for position.
By midsummer, they are confident and tough with spiny stems that prickle if you take hold of them. After the flowers have bloomed, we begin to notice the fruit; orange and green pumpkins, pale brown butternut squash and yellow spaghetti squash.
It’s fabulous to lift squash you have grown and feel the weight of them. Years ago, I recall growing a giant pumpkin in the Balderstone School garden which needed a wheelbarrow to transport it to the kitchen. Our enthusiastic cook made some delicious soup for the children and staff.
Cooking squash is easy and there are plenty of recipes for soups and stews and roasts. The hardest task is cutting open a large pumpkin with its leathery skin. A sharp knife and a solid board are essential and care is needed to keep fingers out of the way.
Once the squash is cut in half, scrape out the seeds and strings and roast the two halves skin-side up. The flesh will be easy to scoop out. One of the most fascinating squash is the spaghetti squash. Don’t scoop this with a spoon, scrape with a fork and it will separate in strands, looking remarkably like spaghetti!
On a wordy note, the plural of the word ‘squash’ can be with or without es. If it’s countable: I bought three squashes for Halloween, it is with es. If it’s general: I used some squash in a soup, it is without the es.
Tastes as good either way!